The Portrayal of Adolf Hitler in Jojo Rabbit

by Ngoc Thang Nguyen

  1. Introduction

Jojo Rabbit is a movie directed by filmmaker Taika Waititi in 2019. The comedy-satire film depicts the story of Jojo Betzler during the end of World War II. Alongside Jojo is Adolf Hitler, an imaginary companion that provides support to the protagonist during hard times. This friendship is a unique part of Jojo Rabbit as the movie displays a different portrayal of Adolf Hitler compared to his usual image in real life. Perhaps, through Jojo Rabbit, Waititi uses the film to imply that Hitler is less of a feared and ruthless dictator but to view the man as humor and joke to laugh at.

2. A comical Hitler

In Jojo Rabbit, Adolf Hitler is an imaginary friend of the ten years old protagonist Jojo Betzler which his presence relies on the boy’s need for emotional supports. The character serves as the film’s main element of comic relief which challenged the original perceived image of himself in real life as a cruel and monstrous political leader. In other words, Hitler’s portrayal in Jojo Rabbit largely serves as a satirical ‘tribute’ to the Nazi Führer. Though the film does not address any explicit historical facts, however, it focuses more on the development of the characters. Through JoJo Rabbit, the director invited the audience to view a different image of the Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler. From Waititi’s perspective, the Nazi leader appears rather comical and silly but possesses traits of a supportive and kindhearted man. He does not seem to take care of himself very serious and often shows his goofiness. This is evidenced in the opening scene when dictator enthusiastically encourages Jojo to build confidence prior to entering the Hitler-jugend training camp. Likewise, the two characters’ hilarious Heil Hitler! Salute, added by exaggerated movements further exhibits the dictator’s child-like maturity similar to that of Jojo. The salute is a mandatory greeting practice of the Nazi officers as a way to show respect and loyalty to the party and the superior fuhrer.

No doubt, Jojo’s exaggerated and playful heil immediately becomes a satire making fun of the serious ritual greeting. Moving on, it is important to examine his body posture and movements in the following scene at the Hitler-jugend camp. While talking to Jojo, Hitler leaned against the tree with his left elbow points out and right leg crosses. The comfort and casual-ness in his pose contradict with that of Adolf Hitler as he always stood straight in an uptight and stiff posture. As a result, it enhanced the dictator’s overall intimidating appearance that granted him the ability to assert superiority and power. On the other hand, the imaginary Hitler’s casual and flexible gestures failed to establish credibility and superiority. Not to mention, it is further emphasized by the man’s sarcastic facial and vocal expressions which enhance his wit and humor that the real Adolf Hitler lacked. Through this evidence, the movie creates a satirical façade of Adolf Hitler as a whimsical and sympathetic companion rather than an intimidating authoritative Fascist.

3. Waititi’s Indigenous Nazi

There is a subtle point in Jojo Rabbit that observant viewers should be able to notice is that Adolf Hitler is played by director Taika Waititi himself. Although it is unsure whether the decision was deliberated, however, this can be considered as a great insult to Adolf Hitler. The irony lies in Waititi’s background as a mixed Polynesian-Jewish, in which Polynesia (also known as Māori) is a sub-regional indigenous ethnic group located in the southern part of New Zealand within the Pacific Ocean (Dudgeon & Tromp, 2014). For an extreme anti-Semite, for a half-Jewish person to star as the dictator is a controversial yet satisfying ‘slap’ in Hitler’s face in which Jojo Rabbit managed to deliver. Anti-Semitism has always been an essential component in German politics that really took off publicly after the first World War (Jones, 2014). But, discrimination against the Jewish descendent has long integrated within the fabrics of German society through other mediums beyond politics can be found in literature, pamphlets, and newspapers (McDonough, 2012). Others can be found among more niche intellectual works like the celebrated philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger (Holub, 2015). And so, anti-Semitism can be founded lurking and feeding into the minds of commoners across all social classes in the society. With the humiliating WWI defeat, Germany struggled to thrive in order to revive their pride and staggering economic status under the Weimar Republic democratic party (McDonough, 2012).

In order to restore the nation’s status, Hitler, together with the Nazi Party, became Germany’s hope to regenerate Germany through their establishment of power, order, and security (McDonough, 2012). Under the Nazi regime, hatred towards Jews was strongly encouraged and propagated among the public, which reinforced the deep-seated discrimination from the Nazis supporters. Hitler believed that Jews had ‘no resemblance with Germans’ which was reinforced and their race is deemed inferior, racially impure, and insignificant (McDonough, 2012). Likewise, anti-Semitism during WWII saw its peak with the Holocaust mass genocide as an effort from Hitler and the Nazi Party’s collaborators to exterminate all the Jews and other inferior groups, such as Gypsies, Russians, etc. (Klaff, 2019). Consequently, the mass murder massacred an estimation of six million European Jews and millions of other Holocaust victims (Klaff, 2019). However, to sum up, the argument, Waititi’s satirical portrayal of Hitler can be considered as a great humorous evident in Jojo Rabbit with implications regarding Adolf Hitler as a joke instead of a menace.

The young boy presents deep admiration and idolization of Hitler as the role model, which manifests in Betzler’s “wild fanaticism”. This behavior resulted in his desire to be a part of the Nazi ‘club’, whereby, illustrated through his dressing in Nazi uniforms, more importantly, his blatant advocacy of war and anti-Semitic ideology. Although Jojo often expresses an aggressive Nazi facade, however, it is merely a surface that covers his soft and sensitive personality. For instance, it is clearly illustrated through Jojo’s awkwardness and discomfort in the failed attempt to kill a rabbit in order to prove Nazi mentality which instead turned him into a clowned coward among his peers. Soon, the imaginary Hitler arrived again to encourage Jojo to be the ‘rabbit’ to stand against the bully, as he believes the animal is “brave to face the daily danger in the world”. Unfortunately, this boost of confidence unfortunately led the boy to dive into an explosion accident, consequently, shattered his goal of becoming a soldier and remained largely at home due to his deformity. From this point onward, the audience starts to see the Swastika ‘fanboy’ become a subject of humor among other characters, whereby he was regarded as useless and not taken seriously by others.

4. Conclusion

The way Jojo is treated by others acts as a reflection of how Adolf Hitler is intended to view by the filmmaker that he is not taken seriously. In fact, it means that Jojo should not take advice from his friends seriously. Although they show that Hitler has thoughtful motives, however, only influence Jojo to commit a series of actions that hinder his goals. In the movie, the audience can see most of Jojo’s actions driven by Hitler’s advices that mainly steer the boy’s life situations in the opposite direction from his intention. For instance, the character’s actions leading to his fatal injury was caused by him listening to Hitler’s advice. Furthermore, it is evidenced in scenes where Jojo has consultations with Hitler regarding his next plan for the Jewish girl. Hitler’s advices display hostility against the girls, in many cases, he suggests Jojo get rid of her and report to the SS. Many of these advices only provide more trouble for Jojo as he failed to fulfill what the advices entail which results in him making his own decisions with Hitler’s input. And so, in the beginning, viewers can see the anxiety of the boy after each of his interactions with Elsa, following by the prep-talk with Hitler. However, as the film progresses, Jojo gains more confidence in his relationship with Elsa, a direct result of his less interaction with Hitler. The boy becomes ‘awoke’ from his imagination and ability to perform his plans without Hitler’s input. The decline in the interaction acts as a signify indicating Jojo’s independence over his imaginary friend. By the end of Jojo Rabbit, viewers can see that Jojo becomes completely adrift away from Hitler and neglect to follow the character’s ‘orders’, consequently, terminates his relationship with the imaginary character.

Works Cited

Dudgeon, J. V., & Tromp, M. “Diet, geography and drinking water in Polynesia: Microfossil research from archaeological human dental calculus, rapa nui (Easter island).” International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 24(5), 2014, 634-648. doi:10.1002/oa.2249

Holub, Robert C. Nietzsche’s Jewish Problem: Between Anti-Semitism and Anti-Judaism. Princeton University Press, 2016.

Klaff, Lesley. “Holocaust Inversion.” Israel Studies, vol. 24, no. 2, 2019, pp. 73-90.

Jones, Larry E. The German Right in the Weimar Republic: Studies in the History of German Conservatism, Nationalism, and Antisemitism. Berghahn, 2014.

McDonough, Frank. Hitler and the Rise of the Nazi Party. Pearson, 2014. doi:10.4324/9781315833095.

Poewe, Karla O. New Religions and the Nazis. Routledge, 2006. doi:10.4324/9780203508442.

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